If you want to visit Plitvice Lakes with kids so that you can marvel at one of the world’s most stunning natural attractions AND avoid the summer crowds then you need to read on.
Croatia’s tourism is booming and although this is great news for communities reliant on the tourist revenue it means some of the most popular destinations in Croatia can be extremely crowded and Plitvice Lakes is the best example of this. Fortunately, we discovered you still can have an extremely enchanting family visit to Plitvice Lakes with a little extra planning and forethought.
Spanning 295 square kilometres, Plitvice Lakes National Park located in central Croatia is approximately ninety minutes from Zadar on the Croatian coast or two hours from Zagreb. If you don’t have a car then the easiest way to reach Plitvice is via the extensive bus network which can easily be booked online at www.getbybus.com or directly at any of the major stations in Croatia. The buses were very comfortable, convenient and cheap so we pretty much used them to travel as a family, all through Croatia with ease.
Take a moment to google Plitvice Lakes images and you can instantly see for yourself why this place is such a massive drawcard. Set in a limestone canyon there are 16 lakes that interlink and form a myriad of cascading waterfalls - no superlatives can really describe how stunning this place is.
What makes Plitvice so special are the winding timber walkways and gravel trails across, around and through the lakes and waterfalls which gets you so close and upfront with the beauty. Even our kids aged 4 and 6 were enthralled by how amazing this place is at every turn.
There are also a huge number of off the beaten track hiking trails which can be explored. My number one recommendation for a visit to Plitvice, particularly with young kids, is that it definitely requires more than a day trip.
Packaged day trips will have you arriving with the hordes of other tour buses where you will be crammed into the most popular parts of the park totally detracting from your experience. Quite simply it doesn’t give you the time or space to really enjoy and appreciate this place.
If you have the time in your itinerary definitely allow for at least two days if not three, particularly if you are a keen hiker or photographer.
As we were visiting with young kids, we opted to break the visit over two days which meant we covered almost the whole park and were able to allow some time for some nice picnics and rest spots along the way to allow recovery for young legs.
You will need to buy a two day entry pass and dependent on your dates of travel the prices will vary - http://www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/en/plan-your-visit/operating-hours-and-prices/)
Day one we didn’t enter the park until late in the day, around 3pm from Entrance 2 which gives you direct access to both the upper and lower lakes from its central point. Walking from the entrance down into the Park we caught the shuttle (train and boat shuttles run between major stops) all the way to the end stop of the upper lakes.
By this time, we had almost private use of the raised boards around the upper lakes (Jezero Ciganovac and Jezero Okrugljak) – we seriously passed less than ten other people over a couple of hours.
This part of the park is considered by many as the least scenic however with no other people about we found it to be truly serene and discovered lots of little side trails to viewpoints that easily filled a wonderful afternoon. The kids had heaps of fun spotting fluorescent blue butterflies and the fish filling each lake.
The following morning, we set off early to reach the park by 7.30am when the gates first open. Making our way again from Entrance 2 to the boats we were the first in line for the first boat across Lake Kozjak at 8am. If you want to beat the crowds on the lower lakes then it is essential you make this first boat and allow for the 20 minutes or so that it will take you to walk from the entrance to the dock. You will then be ‘leading the pack’ which makes navigating the narrow walkways over the lakes much easier with young kids.
Once disembarking from the boat you can then follow the signs to the lower lakes and begin a sensational walk through the most intense cluster of waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. The colour of the water, the fauna and aquatic life along the way and the contrasting sounds will have you and the kids enthralled and you won’t even notice how far you have walked until you stumble across Veliki Slap, the big waterfall.
Stopping for a picnic morning tea at Veliki Slap, I then highly recommend heading for the view from above. By this time of the morning the lower walkways are starting to heave with people and it is time to escape. Look for a steep set of stairs right next to the open area at Veliki Slap and start climbing!
Once at the top you will find a wide and meandering trail that takes you back along the top of the canyon surrounding the lower falls. Unfortunately, there were a number of viewpoints along this path that were overgrown and obscured at the time of our visit but there were a couple with those postcard perfect views and photo opps that everyone is looking for.
By lunchtime we found the majority of people were congregated at either end of the lakes so it was a great chance to head back to the central part of the upper lakes. A highlight for us was the area around Gradinsko where the concentration of waterfalls was staggering – every which way you looked was just stunning scenery. With some long and short hikes keeping us busy and in awe for another few hours the kids’ legs were getting well and truly weary by this stage.
We had a truly amazing visit to Plitvice Lakes and were sad that this place has to be soooo far from Australia as it would be amazing to visit at different times of the year – Autumn would be awesome!
A short taxi ride back to our hotel for a cool off in the pool and then we were back on the bus to head back to the coast to continue our Croatian adventure….
Other handy hints for enjoying Plitvice Lakes with kids
The restaurants in Plitvice we found to be a little strange and apart from ice cream there was little in the way of snacks. We had stayed in Jezerce just 5 minutes from the park where there was also very little in the way of ‘supplies’. Best to pre-prepare if possible and bring some shopping with you from a larger hub (Zagreb or Zadar). Just some staples like fruit and snacks would be handy.
Prams – realistically prams at Plitvice would be a no go unless you were happy with sticking to the peripheral trails and not the over-water walkways. The walkways over the lakes are rickety in places and quite narrow when passing. To be honest people passing you are quite often oblivious to how much space they take up and are too busy trying to get their perfect selfie to notice they are nearly pushing your kids into the lake. Gotta love the selfie stick travellers!
Where to stay – Family accommodation in Plitvice
Plitvice Etno House: The superior quadruple room had extremely comfortable beds a large, modern bathroom and catered well for a family of four with 2 single beds and a King bed.
The pool and small playground was a hit with the kids and breakfast was a tasty home-style meal with good variety. The staff were also helpful in organising shuttles to and from the park for a small extra cost as we didn’t have a car.
Overall a great place to stay with kids. You can check out current prices using the search box to the left - just enter Plitvice Etno House.
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